“And it will always happen that he who is not your friend will request your neutrality and he who is your friend will ask you to declare yourself by taking up arms. Irresolute princes, in order to avoid present dangers, follow the neutral road most of the time, and most of the time they are ruined.” — Niccolo Machiavelli
The situation in Egypt is not an easy one for Western Leaders – they liked Mubarak well enough, knowing full well what he was, but now that he is in the news they are a little more nervous about associating with him. The pro-Mubarak protesters who have initiated a whole new round of violence in Egypt in some cases were carrying signs saying ‘shut up Obama’ – they who are not our friends are requesting neutrality. But can Obama afford to remain neutral in this conflict?
Apparently not. Presented with a compromise (wait until September), Obama has insisted that the transition to Democracy must start now. This is vital – if the US is seen as dragging its feet, the narrative that will spun will be that the US opposed the revolution and preferred Mubarak’s regime. But having chosen a side, Obama has put a lot at stake – if the protests are crushed, he’ll have lost Mubarak’s support and not gained any Democratic allies in the region.
What he must do, then, is behind the scenes. He must help convince the army that even with the protesters rejecting the ‘compromise’ proposed by Mubarak, they are still worth protecting and eventually obeying. What he can’t do is be too open – a leak here could spoil everything. If the US comes out as having worked through the army to help the revolution, the revolution will be compromised from the start, both in Egypt and in the eyes of the rest of the Arab world.
On the other hand, being openly supportive but only privately influential in the crises can allow the US to work to come to the right outcome, start things with the new regime off on the right foot, and avoid tainting it with the appearance of US meddling.